Friday, April 25, 2014

Habermas and the international EU as it is

Isn’t there already transnational democracy enough in the EU (pending economic recovery from recession)?

A fascinating comment about Germany in a recent NYTimes article on the Ukraine Event is that, in effect, the European Commission is a “partnership...hallowed in Berlin as the real...governing body of Europe.”

The key theme of Habermas’s recent lecture to the German SPD leadership on need for greater political union in the EU is that the EU lacks “a common economic government” that is sensitive to national differences and answerable to the European Parliament, which lacks “executive power” or “control” of economic policy.

But his view seems contradicted by the role which the European Commision articulates for the European Parliament and the power that the Parliament has to supervise economic policies of the Commission.

It appears that Habermas wants a strengthening of executive power analogous to the U.S. independently-elected and constituted Executive Branch of government.

But Habermas’s Executive stance seems ambiguous as to what he really wants. On the one hand, he criticizes the Commission for failing to create transnational policy, thus yielding too much to national conditions, re: climate control (too parliamentary?). On the other hand, he criticizes the Commission’s, Council’s, and Central Bank’s transnational economic policy for failing to be sensitive to national conditions, re: national differences in fiscal conditions (not enough socialist leadership?) This looks like a difference of view by Habermas on specific Executive policies, not a failure of Executive power.

The large-scale issue—relevant to Habermas’ advocacy for greater political union in his SPD lecture (which I’ll consider to be the substance of what he wants for the “European experiment” in transnational democracy)—is this: What does the European Commission not do already that a “properly” transnational democracy should be doing in the specifically-complex situation of the EU? A need for change in policies doesn’t alone indicate need for a stronger Executive office.

The best way to address this may be the converse question: Given what the Commission does, what else is urgently needed, beyond different policies? Wanting different policies is just part of good normative dispute. It doesn’t indicate need for changing the form of government (i.e., creating a more independent Executive branch or all-EU electoral office). It indicates need for changing the “sway” of the given institution.

So, what does the Commission do?

It seems to me that the Commission does everything one could reasonably want for transnational democracy (details upcoming here). Vital to understanding what they’re doing is to appreciate what I’ll call the circle of change, which is, in a phrase, that the Commission’s high-level policies are, by design, only as good as their local implementation which feeds back “up” into evaluation and revision of policy-for-practice.

In particular, transnationally-derived initiatives are about that which can only be implemented across a continuum that is at once local, regional, and national, which calls for each level of government to buy in to what everyone was evidently involved in articulating, during 2010, which constitutes the Europe2020 initiatives [Feb. 2021: now merged into “The European Semester” program] for a Commission that is systematically answerable to its partners: the European Parliament, European Council, member-state representatives of the Commission, European Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions, and European Investment Bank/Investment Fund.

The European Parliament is answerable to the national parliaments of member states, and the national parliaments are responsible for seeing that the agreed Europe2020 initiatives are implemented.

Especially impressive is what those initiatives are: very specific projects and programs that require very systematic, evidence-sensitive policies and practices of “smart, sustainable, and inclusive” growth [2014 version of Europe2020].

Drilling down, consider the aspect of “inclusive growth” that involves a “platform against poverty,” which is monitored and evaluated laterally between member states (which monitor / evaluate each other), rather than being evaluated vertically, i.e., directly by the Commission itself. This is instituted through the “Open method of coordination,” with “the Commission's role being limited to surveillance.”

Presuming that this open method pertains to every policy area of every Europe2020 initiative, it’s easy to see that the implementation depends on “Regional and local authorities” and civil societal “exchange of good practices, benchmarking and networking,” exemplified by the “key role” of the European Economic and Social Committee’s “Civil Society” component.

So, the question for any voice or party is this: What do “you” want from transnational democracy that the EU doesn’t already, in practice, commit itself to, in measurable ways?

What makes “you” believe that the best model of transnational democracy is not already existing in-and-for the EU, such that its success is depending on the economic recovery of Europe from recession that will restore the fiscal capability to actualize the Europe2020 plan?

What makes "you" think that the entirety of Habermas's critique in his SPD lecture isn't annulled by the fact that, outside of critical economic recovery interventions by various EU institutions, those institutions are systematically controlled by a very transnational democratic constellation which, to my mind, is highly impressive?

What more should one want? End of recession! Of course.

I recognize that I'm detailing a top-down process that has bottom-up feedback, not a bottom-up development process with top-down accountability. But that's simply because I'm presuming that the Europe2020 initiatives were developed bottom up, because the content of those initiatives are exactly what progressive social policy recommends. The Europe2020 initiatives express what one might expect from bottom-up development processes. So, I think that my final question above has credibility. There's no good reason to believe that the Europe2020 initiatives are not what "The People" have said is in their best interest (education, health care, jobs, economic stability, etc.)

This provides a context for examining issues of insufficient solidarity across levels of society and government for effective implementing of initiatives that are presumably expressive of genuine social interests. Economic recession is depressive! One should expect that macroeconomic recovery must be generally evident for people to feel durably motivated to "get with The Program" that may lead to healthy lives, healthy regions, etc.

Presuming now that Habermas is quite well aware of what the European Commission is all about, his SPD lecture would be claiming, in effect, that German overbearingness and EU leadership decisions are inhibiting the democratic potential that the EU already has. So, his lecture is, in effect, a critique of both the Europe2020 Program and Germany policy—or the relation of German policy to the Europe2020 Program.

But Habermas doesn't put it that way. Yet, isn't this the topic?: In terms of the Europe2020 Program, how should German policy be revised? Habermas' lecture might have been more policy specific.

In any case, there’s a great context for thinking about transnational politics by thinking together Habermas’s recent sense of discourse and democracy; and international law in terms of recent euro area events.

This posting is associated with the “transnationalism” area of Habermasian studies.